When it comes to your training and the equipment that you can choose to use for support the options are endless. There are braces for this, wraps for that, but which is the best for you and the results you want?
First let’s cover a general rule to go by and then get down to more specific cases that you might have questions about. My philosophy when it comes to supports and equipment that assists you is simple: only use it if absolutely necessary.
You body has hundreds of “built-in” supports for hundreds of movements and activities – most of which you might not even do on a regular basis. The problem comes though when your body has dysfunction or you haven’t trained a certain way and then try to do something that is strenuous and your body isn’t ready for that level of intensity.
Let’s look through some of the more common supports and how you can shift your training to allow your body to support you more then an artificial piece of equipment.
Weight-Belt & Knee Wraps
These tools can be valuable but only when you’re going for a maximum squat effort lift for just one or two reps. If you’re wearing wraps for anything other than that kind of effort I think you’re wasting your time. Your body was built to withstand sub-maximal stress and it actually gets stronger under an appropriate level of stress. Your natural supports that can replace this equipment at sub-maximal effort would be your deep core muscles along with hip stabilizers.
A great exercise that incorporates both your core and hip stabilizer muscles would be the Single-leg Box Jump DOWN – where the focus is on sticking the landing with great control.
Rock Tape / Kinesio Tape
If you have an injury or are trying to re-learn how to properly move and engage the correct muscles this is a great tool. This type of support is becoming more and more popular as more chiropractors and physical therapists are using this to help patients re-learn how to move and hold their posture. Your natural support that can replace this equipment would be improved neuromuscular communication through proper muscle sequencing and balance.
Most of the time when this type of assistance tape is used it’s to promote increased contributions from the stabilizing muscles in a movement. A common injury spot for many is the knees – because many people will have weak hips and weak ankles and the stress comes out at the knees. A simple exercise to promote better stabilization at your knees is to warm-up with Single-leg Alternating Hops. Focus on the control of your landing over how high or far you jump.
Thankfully this trend is currently going back towards minimalism when it comes to footwear but for a while it was all about how much support your shoe could give you. However your foot and ankle complex is actually an amazing group of bones, muscles and ligaments all engineered for maximal support and performance. It really is built to take a lot of stress – if you’ve taken care of it throughout your life by being active and having an adequate level of balance. But the more that you run and force your body to rely on a certain pair of shoes the more that you handicap yourself in the long run. It’s always amazing to me how I can ask a client to take off their shoes and balance on 1-leg and they’re much worse then they were with their shoes on. And the client will often claim, “it’s because I’m not in my shoes.” They say it but they don’t realize what they’re actually stating – that their own body is so dysfunctional that they can’t even balance on 1-leg without artificial support. Talk about an injury waiting to happen.
Active Bows is a simple exercise that can help to improve your balance and the motor control from the foot through the ankle up to the knee and hips. The movement may not be at the ankle and foot but those structures have to stabilize in order for you to move other parts of your body and that’s a lot like running and other sports.
This will be worn many times by people that have had a knee surgery or a severe knee injury. I’ve trained a few clients with ACL reconstruction and other severe knee injuries who wore this brace. They were still very active and would wear the brace regularly. I approached this piece of equipment from this standpoint: when we’re training together in the gym – in a controlled environment – I want you to not wear the brace in order to force your body to develop the strength and compensation that the knee is currently lacking. But when they were out and active, whether it was playing basketball or hiking then they’d wear the brace. I really think this is the best way to approach these types of supports.
An advanced exercise that I’ll use with a client that has built up strength around their hips and knees is the Hop to Jump. It’s a great way to simulate an action that they’ll encounter in a sporting activity like basketball or tennis.
The common piece of wisdom when using supports such as these and others is to make sure the support is absolutely necessary instead of treating it as an added bonus or convenience. Train your body to be your real support and know what to add when your body needs some help. And when it needs help and support, make sure to target your training to get that specific area better over time so that you have to use the support less and less.
The more that you train and push your body with artificial support the more you’re teaching your body to rely on that piece of equipment rather then training your body how to properly take and respond to loads and stress. I don’t see a lot of babies being born with artificial supports – somewhere along the way you may lose what your body naturally had. But you can re-gain and improve the amount of stress that your body can handle with a specific and progressive training plan.